Bike ride: Littondale, Yorkshire

Cycle down quiet lanes, past upland hay meadows and alongside dramatic peaks in two of the least-visited Yorkshire Dales

Cycling through meadows

Littondale and Silverdale are the real Yorkshire Dales, far away from the tourist honeypots, and you can’t get much deeper into them than on this ride.

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Restored and traditionally managed meadows support a diversity of invertebrates, mammals and birds as well as up to 120 different species of plants and wildflowers, including eyebright, globe flower, melancholy thistle, hay rattle and wood cranesbill.

Meadow and house
Surrounded by limestone cottages, Arncliffe village green is rich with wildflowers, including buttercups and knapweed, and was once used as pasture for livestock during threats of attack from the Scots/Credit: Paul Kirkwood

Littondale bike ride

21.8 miles/35.1km | 2.5–3 hours | moderate/challenging

1. Giant green

Start at Arncliffe, notable for its giant meadow of a green, typical of many villages in northern England. Such large, encircled and accessible areas of grass and wildflowers were a good place to drive livestock when the menace of attack from the Scots was evident. Take the lane at the top of the village, heading south-west. The undulations, peacefulness and fine view across the deep, v-shaped valley of Cowside Beck set the scene for what is to come. At the first cattlegrid, you can spot a corner of Malham Tarn. 

Natural lake
Malham tarn is a natural lake on high ground in the Yorkshire Dales/Credit: Getty

2. Tarn turn

To reach the tarn, fork left down a private road that becomes a rough track through a wood. Pass Tarn House, which was built as a shooting lodge and today is operated by the National Trust as a base for research and environmental education.

Emerge from the trees just past the boat house and take a rest overlooking the lake, the highest in England and the largest natural lake in Yorkshire. On a still day, this is a place of spiritual tranquility. After the tarn, return to the road and keep ahead, following signs to Settle. You start playing a game of peek-a-boo with Pen-y-Ghent. The fell is unmissable at the top of a steep hill, disappears as you plunge downwards and then reappears above a drystone wall like a grand organ emerging from behind the stage in an old concert hall.

Snowy hill
Pen-y-Ghent viewed across farmland/Credit: Getty

3. Best view 

At a T-junction, turn right along Silverdale. The meadows looking left towards Pen-y-Ghent are the best of the ride. The most striking view, meanwhile, comes on the long, gentle descent to gorgeous Halton Gill, nestled deep in Littondale.

4. Gentle finale

Turn left into the village for a break at Katie’s Cuppas, a self-service café within a farm, or right over the bridge to continue direct. It’s all easy going from here, cycling beside the River Skirfare. There’s another refreshment stop at the Queen’s Arms in Litton.

Littondale map

Littondale cycling route and map

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Words: Paul Kirkwood